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Building Character Through After-School Programs

Monday, Jul. 28, 2014
Violent crimes committed by young people “occur most frequently in the hours immediately following the close of school on school days,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.  Calling the afterschool hours “prime time for juvenile crime,” the advocacy group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids reports that afterschool programs have been shown to:
  • Reduce juvenile crime and violence
  • Reduce drug use and addiction
  • Cut other risky behavior like smoking and alcohol abuse      
  • Reduce teen sex and teen pregnancies 
  • Boost school success and high school graduation. 
A new program from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and the East Side Union School District in San Jose is betting that afterschool programs can also help to form student character.
With a grant from Goodwill Industries, teachers representing four East Side Union high schools spent four days at the Ethics Center.  Teachers offering activities from jujitsu to yearbook worked with Ethics Center character education staff to shape their afterschool activities into programs that can build character, engagement, community, and success.
Tom Kostic, associate director of character education at the Center, gave the group a grounding in the basic principles of ethics, explaining that to be ethical is to be “the kind of person other people would choose as a study partner, friend, business partner, teammate, confidant, or even life partner.”  Kostic stressed that although people might differ on some thorny ethical issues, most would agree that society should foster the values of responsibility, respect, self-control, integrity, and effort among young people.
How to instill those values became the focus on four days of workshops taught by Center Character Education Director Steve Johnson and a group of teachers and administrators who are alumni of the Center’s programs.  Johnson focused on the question, “What works?” urging participants to look at the research about what interventions are effective, whether those interventions are efficient, and whether they will meet the real-life needs of their particular students.
Kristi Hofstetter Batiste, retired teacher, talked about using service learning to build character.  In service learning, teachers send students out into the community to participate in meaningful community service and also provide opportunities for students to reflect on and learn from these experiences. Exposure to community needs fosters compassion, and students develop responsibility as they address those needs.
Another focus of the program was building a community to support character.  Wendell Brooks, founder of the BDK Foundation, outlined eight “Habits of the Heart,” which he uses in his work with at-risk youth in Orange County, Calif.   Drawn from a book by Clifton Taulbert, the eight habits are:
  •  Nurturing Attitude                 
  • Dependability
  • Responsibility                        
  • Friendship
  • Brotherhood              
  • High Expectations
  • Courage                      
  • Hope
The Center’s work with East Side Union grew out of a concern on the part of Goodwill to find interventions that might work to impact bullying, according to Bruce Shimizu, director of Goodwill’s youth programs.  “We hope to start impacting kids and parents in a positive way so that we can make a dent—make kids more aware of their actions and more apt to change to positive behaviors.  If some of these kids go tell other kids, maybe that spreads.”